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article imageSocial media, health and STI rates

By Tim Sandle     Apr 24, 2018 in Health
London - As research findings go, the question ‘Are Facebook and Twitter to blame for increasing STI rates?’, is certain to spark interest. Data from Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, suggests a connection.
The central concern is that with the growth of social media, researchers are concerned that there is a link between online forums and a rise in sexually-transmitted infections, especially among younger people. This is coupled with reductions in spending on sexual health advertising in many countries and a cultural shift among some young people in terms of adopting a casual attitude to safe sex practices.
Technology may not be helping the situation, according to a report from the Institute of Policy research (“Young people, sex and relationships: The New Norms”). In the report, it is noted: “the rapid expansion of technological possibilities has changed the nature of the debate. Teenagers are the most technology-savvy group in the UK, with much of their social lives conducted online, and it is clear that young people have access to a much less moderated world than previously existed.”
This has a downside, relating to the content and reliability of: “quality information, clear social norms, and opportunities for redress are less present in digital spaces than usually exists offline”, coupled with a “widening gap between those who have a responsibility to educate and guide young people and the behaviours and norms created by rapidly evolving technology.” Notably, many parents and teachers did not grow up with the technologies that have become part of young people’s lives.
These themes have been expanded upon by Dr Gary Whitlock, from the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust (London, U.K.). Dr. Whitlock recently addressed the 28th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), held in Madrid during April 2018, on the subject of technology, young people and sexually transmitted infections.
In conversation with the magazine European Hospital, Dr. Whitlock explained that sexually transmitted infections have risen during the past 10 years “at the same time, social media use has also increased.” These points are reinforced in a recording of Dr. Whitlock’s conference address.
Citing an example, he stated: for dating, there has been a change in the use of social networking methods, most recently with Geospatial Networking (GSN) app use. Other changes in sexual mores – changes in socially acceptable sexual behaviour – have also occurred. ‘There is an association between increased social media use and increase in some sexually transmitted infections. However, it is not clear if this is a causal relationship.”
While the overall assessment is with the negative effects of social media, the researcher notes the positive aspects that could be harnessed provided that scientifically correct, factual information can be shared, especially information that helps to promote good sexual health practices.
Example of sites attempting to promote positive sexual health messages include IwantPrEPnow website and Dean Street Prime, a web-based tool.
More about Sexual health, Sexually transmitted diseases, Social media
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